Monday, October 27, 2014

Link of the Week

“By a continuing process of inflation, government can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens.”   - John Maynard Keynes

The following is a perfect example of the herd being sheared and taken advantage by simple virtue of 'playing by the rules'...

“There's something we 'regular' citizens wrestle with that the elites never seem to: a sense of moral duty.
For example, following the collapse of the housing bubble, many people struggled with mortgages they could no longer afford to pay, fearing the shame of default. Many believed defaulting was wrong somehow; that it was their moral obligation to pay their mortgages, no matter how dire their personal situation. And of course, the mortgages lenders did their utmost to reinforce this perception.

In a perfect world, we would honor our debts and obligations, every one of us. But the world is an imperfect place ,and moral obligation is something that almost never enters into the decision matrix of our society's richest. Or the banking industry.

For them, the number one (and two, and three...) rule is that whatever is expedient and makes the most money is the right thing to do.

For the bottom 99%, it’s like playing with a stricter set of rules than your opponent: you’re not allowed to hit below the belt, and they’ve brought a baseball bat into the ring.

For the rest of the article, the full PeakProsperity link is here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Another One Rides the Bus

Miller: I think a lot about this kind of stuff. I do my best thinking on the bus. That's how come I don't drive, see.
Otto: You don't even know how to drive.
Miller: I don't want to know how. I don't want to learn. See? The more you drive the less intelligent you are.”  - Repo Man (1984)

So several days ago my 12-year old Toyota Corolla's engine suffered a serious engine malfunction just as I pulled into work.  So that started my journey on the public bus system for the first time in maybe 5 years (at least in this country).

As you might be thinking, anyone who is perfectly fine with driving a beater car like my old Toyota isn't too snobbish or picky.  So after having the car towed to the auto shop and needing a way to get home some 20 miles away, I had no problem with the idea of taking the bus.  It's not my preference and I could easily afford a cab, but paying $50+ bucks for a cab ride versus a couple bucks for the bus seemed frivolous (at least when not being pressed for time).

Taking the bus is not glamorous, but it isn't something to avoid like the plague either.  Sure there are some areas in some cities I wouldn't choose to do so, but my ride through a big chunk of the Denver area was pretty uneventful and was actually a nice change of pace.  It certainly was nice not having to deal with the circus of ass-clowns that represent a sizable chunk of Denver's drivers.  And I suppose there is a little bit of truth to the above quote from the movie Repo Man, in that riding on the bus (or train) is conducive to daydreaming and getting lost in thought.  I think seeing the scenery passing by is a key part of it somehow; riding in an airplane miles up in the air usually doesn’t have the same effect.  Of course me being me, once the bus started filling up on the latter half of the trip I felt I had quit daydreaming and pay closer attention to the fellow riders (it’s not paranoia; it’s situational awareness).  Still it was nice just being able to spend 40 minutes or so getting lost in thought while still making way to my destination.  I kind of wonder what the other riders think of as they ride the bus.  Though in the case of the 40-ish guy with the dyed mullet, some odd style of muttonchops, and ill-fitting t-shirt revealing some sort of tattoo highlighting the word “BEER” on his very ample stomach, I’m betting he was thinking “how come it’s so hard for me to get a date?”

Anyway, one of the things I thought about during this time was why do so many of us spend so much of our time, money, and attention on the cars we drive?  Of course I understand that in many parts of the US our cities and housing locations aren’t very conducive to mass transit, so on some level many of us need a car as a means to get to work, run errands, and generally make a living.  And many times it's just really convenient.  But more specifically, why is it that so many of us spend so much compared to what we make on expensive cars and trucks?  

The traditional American answer to that would be that the car is a symbol of personal freedom, allowing us to go many places on a whim.  I personally get that, because I’ve done many, many road trips for purely recreational purposes to see and visit new places.  But if ‘personal freedom’ is the answer, why on earth do so many of us get cars that stretch our budgets and/or require big loans?  Tying yourself down to a loan payment for 4 to 6 years?  And now 7 and 8 year loans are becoming more popular.  Sure you’ve now got that spiffy new car that can take you almost anywhere in the country… oh, except now you can’t do that because you need to go to keep going to work to make the car payment.  That’s almost the opposite of personal freedom.  Not to mention that borrowing so much money for a depreciating and (in most cases) non-productive asset is a financially boneheaded move. 

I suspect the real reason for it is that most of us are victims of the consumer culture and the need to show status and ‘keeping up with the Joneses’. To paraphrase The Survival Podcast’s Jack Spirko, going into huge debt for such reasons like shackling shiny chains to our own wrists, and then bragging to everyone and saying, “see how shiny and expensive my chains are!”.  I’ve driven some nice luxury cars and even owned a couple (an Acura and a Lexus), so I do understand they are nice to drive.  But I never could see the point in borrowing heavily just so you can have a sweet ride.  In my pizza-delivering college days, I had a fair number of coworkers that got part-time delivery jobs, in addition to their existing full-time occupations, in part because they had to make the payments on the big expensive trucks they were driving (this was in Alaska, so the automotive status symbols tended to be big trucks).  It is insanity.  My car at the time may have been not much to look at, but it worked well and not being chained to a loan gave me the freedom to take multiple two-week and six-week vacations… and that was without the luxury of a job that had ‘vacation hours’.

So bringing this back around to the subject of the bus and mass transit, one thing I noticed was the number of 20-somethings riding the bus for work.  It’d be a bit hasty on my part to base my whole opinion on one long bus trip, but it is looking like the mainstream media isn't too far off when they say the Millenials/Gen-Y crowd really do treat cars more as an option rather than a necessity.  If so then good for them, and I hope they continue to move a little bit further away from the consumer culture.  Quite a few hipsters of various ages on the bus too…. I have about as much in common with most hipsters as I do with a Tibetan yak-herder, but if in their hipster-ness they happen to reject at least some aspects of consumerism, then what the hell, more power to 'em. 

So what about me; am I willing to give up my car?  Well as of yesterday the auto shop has declared the engine a loss, which I had suspected was the case from the noises it was making as I was pulling into work.  And the cost of replacing the engine or taking a chance on an engine rebuild is more than that 12-year old Corolla is probably worth, so that the next stop for that car is whatever junkyard is willing to pay the most.  Does that mean I’m going to start taking the bus to/from work?  If it was convenient I probably would, but the distance and the hours I work don’t allow for it.  Yet I don’t think I’ll be getting a new car anytime soon either.  It’s not a matter of affordability; I just think that getting a new car now would limit our options for next year’s planned move and foray into entrepreneurship.  We still have one car between my wife and me, and with us having different work hours now we can make it work.  Yet even if things were different and I needed my own car for work or what not, you’d still find me cruising Craigslist and online ads for a cheap car.  At this stage I’d rather free more of my money to invest more in productive assets now that will produce some sort of return over time.  As for that nice Tesla, it will still be waiting for me to buy when the time comes...

Link of the Week

“Gold is a great way to preserve wealth, but it is hard to move around. You do need some kind of alternative and Bitcoin fits the bill. I’m not surprised to see that happening.”   - Jim Rickards, American Lawyer, Economist and Investment Banker

Because I dig what Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies are trying to do and the competition it poses to our increasingly corrupt and entrenched banking systems, I thought the following article was worth mentioning:

By Scott Dance, The Baltimore Sun

"Cryptocurrency may be the future, but it lives in what is, for many, still a cash world.
So while bitcoin advocates push for ways to encourage people to use the digital form of payment, they also must meet consumers — and their wallets — where they are.

A company that plans to install as many as 100 bitcoin ATMs by year's end installed the region's first of the machines Monday night at Fells Point bar Bad Decisions. More are planned for Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and Amtrak stations, Wal-Marts and 7-Eleven stores around the region.

While usage of bitcoin is still low — even at establishments like Bad Decisions, a well-known early adopter of technology and social media — advocates hope the ATMs will make it easier for technophiles to give bitcoin a try.

"It's going to be an easy entry point for consumers to actually get bitcoins," said Josh Riddle, CEO and co-founder of Bitsie, a Baltimore startup that works with brick-and-mortar stores to help them accept bitcoin payments."

You can read the entire article at the original link here.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Secret Squirrel Spaceplane

“The dinosaurs became extinct because they didn't have a space program. And if we become extinct because we don't have a space program, it'll serve us right!”  ― Larry Niven

Having a background in aerospace engineering, this article is on a topic near and dear to my heart, space science and exploration:

"The U.S. Air Force’s unmanned X-37B space plane touched back down on Earth after a two-year mission — but conspiracy theorists are still wondering what the craft was doing all that time.

A military spokesman said the “X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle mission 3 (OTV-3)” returned to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, on the heels of a 674-day mission to conduct experiments in orbit, CNN reported. But how exactly it spent those 674 days isn’t really known.

Conspiracy theorists have been trying to figure out for months what the Pentagon has been doing with its “newest and most advance re-entry spacecraft,” CNN reported. One guess: The spacecraft is a space bomber, CNN reported. Other say it’s a spy plane.”

(Rest of the article here.  Air Force link on the spacecraft here

My opinion?  Technically it’s probably meant for BOTH surveillance and orbital/suborbital bombing missions.  Developing a multi-use re-entry vehicle for just one of said missions would be an enormously expensive and wasteful use of any sizeable spacecraft.  But I think what this vehicle is REALLY all about is as a proof-of-concept for various technologies (primarily re-entry thermal protection and automated flight & landing systems) that the Air Force will use to develop something bigger and more versatile.  The X-37B is neat, but given the high cost and limited utility compared to other available options for said activities (like surveillance planes & satellites and bombing missions conducted from aircraft carriers), I think its primary purpose is as an intermediate step to a larger multi-use orbital vehicle with the ability to fly manned and unmanned missions as well as to dock with the ISS and other spacecraft.  In fact, the link to the Air Force description page says straight out this the purpose is to test and prove various systems and technologies.  And in the space biz, to pursue something as ambitious as a full-size multi-use space plane, you have to have a reasonably mature Technology Readiness Level (TRL) for the various components involved as well as system as a whole.  Given the government's extensive track record in gratuitously lying and deceiving the public (especially since Baby Bush's tenure) I'm naturally suspicious of just about any information that comes from the government.  But in this case the official explanation makes sense.  If they're not totally brain-dead they would have had it performing surveillance in addition to whatever microgravity experiments they were doing in there for the past two years in orbit, but I'm pretty certain anything other than proving the concept and various systems are purely secondary goals.

Seeing these kinds of things gives me a little bit of optimism for the future of space flight.  It’s almost enough to make me willing to work another DoD contracting job.  Almost…. but not quite.  In my limited experience the military as a whole is somewhat less dysfunctional than the majority of other government organizations, but that’s kind of like being top of the class in summer school.

Regardless, even excessively bureaucratic and corrupt institutions can create something of value on occasion.  One can only hope this space plane and the one that will likely follow will prove to be one of those rare exceptions and the technologies filter down to the civilian sector.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Panetta’s “30-Year War” with ISIS and Terrorism, and When Voting Doesn't Matter

“Have we raised the threshold of horror so high that nothing short of a nuclear strike qualifies as a 'real' war? Are we to spend the rest of our lives in this state of high alert with guns pointed at each other's heads and fingers trembling on the trigger?”  ― Arundhati Roy

As I said last month, the trend we will see running up to the 2016 elections will be one of fear and the message of needing a ‘strong’ president as a response to that fear.  Well as the following article from Mike Krieger and Zerohedge shows, we are seeing that push accelerate as none other than former CIA Director and former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta says flat out to expect a 30-year war with ISIS and setting the stage by implying Hillary Clinton had the right (i.e. pro-war) strategy for Syria:

“I think we’re looking at kind of a 30-year war,” he says, one that will have to extend beyond Islamic State to include emerging threats in Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and elsewhere.
In the book’s final chapter, however, he writes that Obama’s “most conspicuous weakness” is “a frustrating reticence to engage his opponents and rally support for his cause.” Too often, he “relies on the logic of a law professor rather than the passion of a leader.” On occasion, he “avoids the battle, complains, and misses opportunities.”

Link to referenced USA Today article: Panetta: '30-year war' and a leadership test for Obama

Like I said before, Obama is being criticized for not being militaristic enough, despite his current bombing campaign in Syria and having done the same to six other countries in his tenure thus far.  Notice here how the framework of the argument is being laid out for us?  The way they’re framing the argument is that there’s no question of whether we do use military action or we don’t; it’s now all about what level and degree of military action is needed.  It’s bad enough that the stooges in or running for office are framing the argument thus, but the mainstream media is offering little in the way of viewpoints outside this argument.  Sure I agree that the way he's directing the military actions in Syria is crap-tacular, but the whole point is we shouldn't be doing it in the first place.

It is even more disgusting how little pushback, or at least higher level discussion, there is in the mainstream media about the whole idea of a “30-Year War” against the Islamic State and various other groups in the Middle East and beyond.  I admit I get most of my news in web or print form and not TV so I may have missed some random TV pundit’s or commentator’s argument against it.  But I have not seen an abundance of editorials railing against the apparently sociopathic (though being a well-connected and ‘credentialed’ one so apparently the media gives him a pass) Leon Panetta and his statement that a 30-years war is good and necessary.  The fact is it is not necessary, and it will feed the very thing it is supposed to stop.  

I suspect this is intentional.  With the economy slowly crumbling and many government promises due to be unfulfilled in the years to come, there is a desperate need for this government and both major political parties to still have the appearance of being relevant and necessary.  Since they’re growing to the point of being incapable of doing anything of actual lasting benefit to the people, they need to convince the people that there is a major threat out there somewhere and they need this government to protect them.  Some nations that have done this in the past have created such ‘threats’ out of thin air, whereas others have taken legitimate threats and hyped them up to appear much more of a threat than they actually are.  The Islamic State or ISIS or ISIL or whatever we’re calling them this week is a prime example of the latter.  They appear to be an murderous bunch of fundamentalist whack jobs, but when it comes down to it they are merely a regional military threat and not nearly as much of a risk to the US as they’re being made out.  They MIGHT be able to orchestrate terror attacks here and there in the US, but in that respect they're no different than a dozen of other such groups.  Ultimately they are not that impressive.  But if one were to have a war of indefinite length, who better to have it against than a flashy, yet clearly inferior, opponent?  Sure innocent lives will be lost, but those in power will usually find some rationalization for whatever actions they find necessary to keep that power.  And if those innocents are mostly people you don’t know on the other side of the world.... well, out of sight out of mind (seems to work well enough at keeping consciences quiet about their messy drone strikes in Pakistan...). 

There is nothing more damaging to a democratic society than constant, long-term war.  By its very nature such a constant war cannot be maintained indefinitely in a true republic or democracy, as the people will eventually tire of the sacrifice (both in lives and money/resources) required for such a war.  In order to keep the war going, the society would HAVE to move towards a more autocratic or dictatorial style of government.  We have already seen a slow but steady move in this direction ever since the War on Terror started (one might say it started even earlier with the War on Drugs), with the steady erosion of our effective 1st, 4th, and 5th Amendment rights.  Giving consent for another indefinite war is just asking the government to take more of your rights away, so why vote for any of these clowns?  Even if one were to agree that something had to be done about the Islamic State, to say that this piss-ant group of fundamentalist douchebags requires a war of a length many times greater than the war against Imperial Japan AND Nazi Germany in WW2 is beyond absurd.  To my thinking, a 30-years war is a means to an end, but that end is all about the political elite in the US consolidating more power locally and globally.  Some might say Leon Panetta is no longer in office, but realistically speaking anyone with who has been both the CIA director and Secretary of Defense and has a political career of that span is as dialed in and part of the elite political club as anyone currently holding office.

Of course now we happen to be at that horrid time… election season… where we are once again told that our votes matter and labor under the delusion that we have any lasting influence in the higher levels of office.  If you just happen to be one of the rare few who actually have a Senator or Representative whose actions (not just words) actually demonstrate a solid position against further military involvement, well lucky you.  Most of us however, will only get a choice between ‘war-hawk’ and ‘war-hawk lite’.  That’s not a choice… that’s the illusion of a choice.    And when it comes to the presidential election two years from now I predict you’re going to see the same thing, only this time on steroids.  And many of us probably will be too trapped by the fear peddled by the said candidates AND the media that we’ll fall for the same trick again.

So by now you can probably guess that I am independent and, as some like to put it, am going to “throw my vote away” on third party or independent or write-in candidates.  And you would be right.  It is as much a vote of protest as anything else, but the only real reason I vote at all is for the various ballot initiatives and local (and sometimes state) elections.  IMHO, the further up the chain the elected office, the more ‘rigged’ the game is.  But with ballot initiatives, propositions, and local offices, there still is a semblance of the public’s ability to influence events.  So I wouldn’t even be voting at all if it weren’t for that; my ‘ideologically-motivated’ or ‘protest’ vote is more or less done because it’s only a couple more pages to fill or not fill on the ballot.  And as I said before, you can always make a statement or have fun with the write-in column…

“You will know (the good from the bad) when you are calm, at peace. Passive. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.”     - Yoda

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Link of the Week

This week’s Link of the Week comes to you courtesy of the Onion.  We’re talking some Grade A, prime gallows humor here….

“Following the death of the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, concerns about the deadly hemorrhagic virus are running high throughout the country. Here is everything you need to know about Ebola:

What is Ebola?
Ebola is an infectious, often fatal virus. For more complete information, consult your own darkest paranoid nightmares.

How do you contract Ebola?
Ebola is contracted through contact with a health care system that vastly overestimates its preparedness for a global pandemic.

What are the symptoms of Ebola?
Severe flu-like symptoms that a CNN cameraman is filming.

How long does it take for symptoms to first appear?
Anywhere from two to 10 days after passing through U.S. customs.

How is Ebola treated?
The virus is eventually killed when the body begins naturally decomposing inside a coffin several feet underground.


Read the rest at the Onion link here.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Ebola – Reasons to be Concerned, But Not Afraid

“Panic causes tunnel vision. Calm acceptance of danger allows us to more easily assess the situation and see the options.”  - Simon Sinek

While alternative media has been reporting heavily on the Ebola outbreak for some time, in recent weeks the mainstream media has finally got around to giving it the attention it deserves.  I’m not entirely satisfied with the way they’re covering it, but at least they're giving it some of the attention it deserves.  On the other hand, I’m finding many (though thankfully not all) in the alternative media space are on a total freak-out and making this into the next potential mutant-biker zombie apocalypse.  While I feel there is a good reason to be concerned and I do find it to be a complete tragedy (in part because of the initial tepid response on behalf of most of the international community), I am not afraid.

Some of the reasons why:

-       Ebola flourishes in hot, humid environments.  While there are such environments in the US, it isn’t the predominant climate for much of the country.  Plus we are approaching winter, which helps reduce the risk further.

-       Ebola is not as easily spread as many diseases.  While there may be a case for limited short-range transmission via large droplets that are airborne for short periods of time, for the most part it usually requires direct contact with the bodily fluids or a symptomatic carrier.

-       It isn’t contagious until the infected person becomes symptomatic, unlike say the common cold.

-       Most Americans have more stringent standards of hygiene than those in the affected countries in Africa.  This is not a slam against those in Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, etc.; it’s simply an acknowledgement that ANYONE no matter their culture will have their hygiene suffer when living in a poverty-stricken environment or in a place with limited infrastructure. Not to mention that Americans on the whole are bigger clean freaks than people in most other cultures (IMO we often take it a little too far, but in this case it works to our favor).

-       Americans in general, and especially in the areas I and my friends and family live, have much larger personal space boundaries than many other cultures.  Especially for a disease that largely requires physical contact with the person or bodily fluids, social distance = lower risk of infection.

Now as to the things I AM concerned about:

-       This outbreak of Ebola seems to be characterized by a long incubation period (up to 3 weeks).  This allows for easier spread to other parts of the world, since thermal cameras and health screenings at airports do little good if the infected carrier is not yet symptomatic.

-       While still not as virulent as the cold or influenza viruses, this instance of Ebola appears to be more contagious than what is typically expected.  The large number of health professionals infected is tricky to explain given what we supposedly know about Ebola’s normal methods of transmission.  It’s expected a handful might get infected due to oversights and accidents, but the number of health professionals infected is way more than a handful.  I suspect that either 1) the virus is somehow becoming hardier and able to survive outside the body for longer periods, or 2) there is a limited ability to transmit the infection through large droplets suspended in the air for short periods.  I suspect it’s #2, where those within a few feet of an infected person (who is most likely coughing) have some small risk of infection.

-       I’m concerned for the general welfare of people living in parts of Africa and hot, humid climates throughout Asia, as any continuation of the outbreak is most likely to spread to those areas. I shudder to think if this were to spread to a major city in India, southern China, or somewhere in southeast Asia.  Even in the winter, those areas are plenty hot.

-       Indirect effects like economic impacts in the affected countries.  Some of the countries in Africa are already feeling this in spades (, and if it spreads significantly into Asia it would be a punch to the gut for the global economy.

-       The possibility that some sick fundamentalist chowderheads will use an infected person to spread bodily fluids in high traffic areas in major cities.  Coat their gloves with said fluids and spend weeks walking around the city, touching handrails, doorknobs, subway handholds, etc.  And that leads to the thing I’m most concerned about….

-       …….. PANIC!!!

I’ve said a number of times before that peoples’ reactions to a difficult situation or incident often has more impact than the direct effects of the original incident.  So what actually concerns me most is how people, and especially our governments, REACT to this.  Ebola isn’t as much of a threat as say, a repeat of the 1918 Spanish Influenza epidemic, but for all its relatively mediocre transmissibility and contagiousness, it more than makes up for it in the terror it inspires in people (or at least people here in America).  And it’s that proclivity to inspire terror that makes Ebola truly dangerous to Western society as a whole.  With sufficient levels of panic involved, essential physical and economic infrastructure will suffer far out of proportion to the actual infection rate and death toll of the disease.  Even with the potential terror attack I outlined earlier, the true danger there is the terror such acts will create.  When people get scared enough they will demand that someone (usually the government) needs to DO something!  And do you really think things will get better when THIS government of ass-clowns steps forward with a “solution”?

Now let me say right off the bat that I don’t buy the line peddled by some in the alternative media that the US government response to Ebola is engineered and being deliberately fumbled, just so as to create some false flag emergency that the government can use just to grab more power.  Both my current and previous two jobs involve working as a contractor for government agencies (I won’t say which… for now), and I can tell you now that the middle-men and higher-ups in government don’t need to pretend to be incompetent or brainless.  They do just fine demonstrating it on their own on a daily basis.  Furthermore, I think even the most brainless and/or wicked among them are aware that this disease wouldn’t discriminate between them and the masses, and if there’s one thing the political class has a knack for its self-preservation.  Now with that being said, I believe they would respond to an existing panic by giving themselves more power and taking away more civil liberties in the name of security, especially if the public is all lathered up and demanding somebody ‘do something’.  And the sad fact is most new laws, measures, or restrictions introduced would probably do little to alleviate the spread or the death toll, and they wouldn’t go away once the Ebola epidemic ended either (after all, al Qaeda being effectively neutered hasn't yet led to the end of the Patriot Act).  This makes it even more crucial not to panic!  The federal government already has the legal powers and resources to address epidemics in the early stages, or to contain and isolate communities suffering from larger outbreaks if necessary.  Don’t give in to fear and give them the opportunity to grab more power and push our nation further towards George Orwell’s and Aldous Huxley’s visions of the future.

Ok so if it Ebola is at least something to be concerned about, what should we do as individuals about the possibility of Ebola spreading in the US?  Well just speaking for myself, I’m not doing anything different than what I normally do.  In the small chance that Ebola does happen to have a significant outbreak in the local area, the most prudent course of action would be to isolate oneself and one’s family at home for some period of time.  We are already reasonably equipped to do this if necessary.  I already keep close to six months’ worth of food, mostly involving the ‘deep pantry’ concept but we also have some long-term storable food and a chest freezer that’s close to full.  We have good supplies of first aid and sanitization items available, and tend to keep ourselves well-stocked on other basic household goods like toilet paper, cleaning supplies, etc.  We have plenty of money saved so we don’t have to make a decision on whether to stay home and go broke versus go to work and risk getting sick (I can even pay the rent electronically).  Heck, we even have plenty of ways to stave off boredom without leaving the house, including numerous books (both paper books and digital format), several card and board games, and an embarrassingly large collection of video games on the PC and Xbox I have yet to play (damn those adult responsibilities!).  My family doesn’t store extra food, household goods, and have extra cash on hand because we expect the world to end from Ebola or World War III or the Apocalypse du jour; we do it so we don’t have to be miserable when life throws a curve ball, whether it’s as severe as bugging in to protect ourselves from disease or as common as losing a job.

Anyway, if you aim to improve your resilience in such a manner there is no reason to be afraid at this stage in the game.  Preparedness helps minimize or eliminate the fear response, and fear is the real thing we need to watch out for…

… well, unless you work with THIS guy in the Ebola cleanup detail…

"Hello Peter, what's happening?  Umm, I'm gonna need you to roll those sleeves on your protective suit back down.  So if you could not be a dumb-ass and please cover your skin to avoid catching and spreading disease around that would be great, mmkay?  Oh oh I almost forgot aah... I'm also gonna need you to go ahead and come in on Sunday too, kay?  We ahh lost some people this week and ah, we sorta need to play catch up."

Monday, October 6, 2014

Link of the Week

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.”   ― E.F. Schumacher

This week’s Link of the Week is a podcast from the McAlvany Weekly Commentary, a long running program touching mostly on economics, geopolitics, and current events.  This I picked in particular because of the guest, Dr. Joseph Tainter, the author of the book The Collapse of Complex Societies.  His book and his work delves into the role that complexity has in the success and failure of societies, and how societies over time tend to increase in complexity to such a degree that it introduces a fragility into the system, making them vulnerable to shocks and events that they would have shrugged off in years past in a simpler state.  Something worth pondering given the unprecedented complexity that represents modern Western society and economies…

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The US “Leadership” Are the Orchestrators of Our Childrens’ Future Suffering

"People of privilege will always risk their complete destruction rather than surrender any material part of their advantage." - John Kenneth Galbraith

The quote above from John Kenneth Galbraith elegantly sums up the driving force behind the recent actions of the American political leadership.  I know I’m not the only one to be head-scratching over last year’s delirious call for war in Syria and this year’s escalating economic war with Russia over Ukraine. And now our “leadership” (I put this in quotes because their actions show them to be nothing of the sort) is undergoing a very substantial campaign of bombing and air-strikes in Syria, which may inflict some damage on the Islamic State but is likely to hurt civilians even more:

Substantial civilian casualties and property damage is going to push many Syrians to embrace the Islamic State or other anti-American groups out of the simple desire for vengeance.  To put it in perspective, how would you feel if a foreign country bombed your farm and killed your family in a sloppy effort to wipe out some drug gang in your state that is ‘threatening’ said foreign country?  Would the excuse “collateral damage” be any consolation, or would you look for any reasonable opportunity to strike back at those foreigners and anyone else you see as sharing responsibility, and raise your children (if any are left, that is) to desire to do the same? 

The President and war-hungry politicians and bureaucrats in both parties seem to think that air strikes and bombing campaigns have little downside because there are few, if any, US casualties and they don’t have to stick their necks out in committing ground forces.  Sorry to say it isn’t that simple.  Air strikes have their uses, but you can’t crush an opponent just with air power, especially one that is relatively mobile and unattached to any particular physical location like the Islamic State.  If you want to truly neutralize them, you have to have some forces on the ground.  If you’re not willing to go all out in defeating one’s enemy, you shouldn’t be fighting PERIOD.  Our government is making the same mistakes they did in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan with their drone campaigns, thinking they could do the job solely from the air.  And like we saw in Pakistan, what will happen is they will stoke anti-American sentiment and boost the ranks of anti-American militant groups.  In fact the Islamic State would not exist today if it weren’t for the constant US meddling in the region over the past several decades, and in particular the last couple years.  Supposedly some of the weapons they have we actually GAVE them not too long ago!  And yet we are supposed to believe our government is in a position to fix this?  But they do what they do because it is politically expedient, and are blind to (or worse, simply do not care about) the long-term consequences and losses that will result. 

What they are doing in Syria is planting the seeds of our childrens’ and grandchildrens’ future suffering.  They (and possibly the younger adults now reading this) will bear the brunt of the backlash, as they will be the ones expected to kill, bleed, and die when in future conflicts with the militants forged from the decisions of the current Ass-clown-in-Chief and the numerous war-happy members of his cabinet and Congress.  Their actions are a classic example of the ‘stupid bandit’ mentioned in last week’s post… someone who inflicts damage far out of proportion to the gains they receive.

Now I am well aware that their decisions are based around realpolitik and controlling the master resource (oil), and the Machiavellian side of my personality can understand that motive.  The sad truth of it though is that our leadership is not only incapable of being wise and responsible leaders, but they suck at being manipulative geopolitical masterminds as well.  I have a healthy dislike of Vladimir Putin, but I don’t have to like him to be able to respect his cleverness and his skill in the game of realpolitik.  But our guys?  They’re apparently still stuck on Chapter 2 of “Gimme That, it’s Mine! A Grade School Primer on Power Politics”.  If we’re going to have Machiavellian sociopaths running this country, the least we can ask is that they actually be competent at it.  So even if one were to believe there is a potential military solution here, we should still refuse to give consent for military action simply because we cannot trust them to not make a bigger mess of it.

So that being said, what is to be done about the Islamic State?  They are a vile bunch and are a threat to the region, but they are just that… a regional threat.  As in it’s the responsibility of the nations in that region to handle it.  Yeah there are a handful of psychos in the US, Australia, and a few other countries threatening or killing in the name of said organization, but in the larger view of things they are small potatoes.  The Mexican drug gangs are far greater threats to the US, yet get only a fraction of the attention.  But if the US continues its course in Syria and the Middle East, the Islamic State could easily grow into a significant threat to Americans.  By its very interference and military presence in the area, it’s giving the Islamic State a propaganda tool of immense value to be used to recruit and sway more people into its ranks.  They WANT us to go there and fight them, and the beheadings are their means to goad us into doing what they want.  The only thing that makes them at all noteworthy is their above-average media savvy.  So why on earth would you do what your enemy wants and play to their biggest strength?  The fact is that sometimes we have to admit there are some things beyond our means to fix, and sometimes doing nothing is actually the best action.  Our presence there (and the inept leadership guiding our presence there) introduces risks and negative repercussions that far outweigh the positives.  And it only makes it worse when the political leadership continues to micro-manage the military and isn’t willing to give the military commanders the freedom to use the most effective means available to complete the objective.  Again, I’m not condoning military action in Syria; I’m only saying that the way they’re carrying it out is compounding an already bad decision.

I know my opinion, even in the minute chance it should reach the eyes of the delusional clowns in charge, means diddly-squat to them.  But I will not condone their activities, and I go so far as to say that I refuse to give them my consent to govern.  To me they aren't President Barack Obama or House Speaker John Boehner, they're simply Obama and Boehner, and their office means nothing to me.  I will acknowledge that they may hold whatever office they’re in, but I will only follow the laws they pass and comply with their dictates to the absolute minimum required to keep me out of jail.  In my eyes, our president and the entirety of Congress have less importance than the maintenance guy who unplugged our toilet or the kid who stocks shelves and bags groceries at the local Safeway.  Those two actually perform a useful function.  And even though one speaks only some English and the other smells a little too much like weed, I’d sooner listen to what they have to say and follow their advice than listen to anything the president or members of Congress have to say.  After all, they're not the ones eying my kids as future cannon fodder....